from North American Bird Folknames and Names by James K. Sayre

Copyright 1996. All Rights Reserved.


British Bird Name Origins


Bird names that were brought over to North America by the colonial immigrants from England had linguistic roots that stretched back into Middle English, Old English, Old French, Old German, Old Norse, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Egyptian, Sanskrit, and Hindi. The following is a listing of many common British bird names, with etymology enclosed within brackets. When possible, individual species referred to by the generic name are listed. If many birds have the same root name, then an example is selected. The scientific names, root words, word of the same meaning in other languages and cognates are all shown in italics. All spelling variations for the italicized root words are listed. With the exception of Scandinavian words with umlauts, diacritical marks for pronunciation have been omitted for ease of reading. Alternative etymologies are listed within parentheses.

chaffinch - refers to Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs. [chaffinch Middle English chaffinche, Old English ceaffinc, from ceaf, chaff, husk + Middle English finch, fynch, fincq, Old English finc, finch, compare: Dutch vink, Old High German fincho, finco, Middle High German vinke, German fink;].

dotterel - refers to Dotterel, Eudromias morinellus. [dotterel Middle English doterel, dotterel, dote Middle English dotien, doten, to be foolish, Middle Dutch doten, to be silly or crazy, to dote, Old Dutch doten, to be silly, compare: Dutch dutten, doze, dote, Icelandic dotta, to nod from sleep; + diminitive suffix -erel, bird named for its supposed stupidity in being easily captured].

gyr falcon - refers to Gyr Falcon, Falco rusticolus. [Middle English gerfaucoun, gerfaucon, girfaucoun, Old French gerfaucon, girfaucon, gerfauc, Old Norse geirfalki, falcon, spear, Late Latin gyrofalco, from gyros, a circle, so called from its flight, compare: Old High German gir, vulture; + falcon Middle English faucon, facon, Old French faucon, falcun, faulcon, falcon, Late Latin falconem, Latin falco].

lapwing - refers to Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus. [Middle English lappewinke, lapwinge, lap wynke, leepwynke, lapwink, Old English læpwince, hlæpewince, hleapewince, hleapan, hledpewince, lapwing, one who turns about in flight or running, literally, 'a wavering leap,' Old English hleapan, to leap, jump, + Old English wincian, to wink, compare: wancol, wavering; present form uses: + wing Middle English winge, wenge, weng, Old Norse vænht, vængr, vængr, bird's wing, compare: Swedish vinge; refers to bird's slow irregular flapping flight].

rook - refers to Rook, Corvus frugilegus. [Middle English rok, roc, rook, Old English roc, hroc, compare: Middle Dutch roec, roek, rook, Old Norse hrokr, rook, Old High German hruoh, crow, Danish raage, Latin cornix, crow, Greek krozeir, to croak, to caw; name reflective of bird's call].

skua - refers to Great Skua, Stercorarius skua. [Modern Latin, Faeroese skugvur, skugver, Old Norse skufr, skumr, the skua or brown gull, compare: Icelandic skumi, dusk, Swedish skum, dusky, Old Norse skufr, tassel, tuft; unknown origin, possibly named for color].

starling - refers to Starling, Sturnus vulgaris. [Early Modern English sterlyng, proper surname Starling, Middle English sterling, sterlyng, Old English stærling, stæline, a diminutive of stær, starling, sterlyng, Latin sturnus, starling, star, compare: Old Norse stari, Danish stær, Swedish stare, Old High German stard, Middle High German star; + -ling Old English -ling, Old Norse -lingr, small].

stork - refers to White Stork, Ciconia ciconia. [Middle English, Old English storc, compare: Old Norse storkr, Old Saxon stork; Dutch stork, Danish stork, Swedish stork, Old High German storah, German storch, Middle High German storch, stork; according to an old legend, a stork passes over a house where a baby is about to be born, hence, the stork's connection to the bringing of a child into the world, refers to bird's stiff-legged walk or its stiff stance].

swan - example: Mute Swan, Cygnus olor. [Middle English swan, Old English swan, compare: Dutch zwaan, Icelandic svanr, Old Saxon swan, suan, Old High German swan, swan(a), swon, German schwan, Swedish svan, Danish svane, Latin sonare, to sound, Sanskrit svan, to resound, to sound, to sing; possibly echoic from sounds of singing swan].

tit - example: Great Tit, Parus major. [shortened form of titmouse, Middle English tit, Icelandic tittr, titmouse, a bird, a small plug or pin, literally, anything small, Old Norse titlingr, little bird].

weaver finch - a genus of Old World birds, example: House Sparrow, Passer domesticus. [weaver, weave, Middle English weuen, weven, Old English wefan, to weave, compare: Old High German weban, Old Norse vefa, Dutch weven, German weben, Danish væve; + finch Middle English fincq, finch, fynch, Old English finc, so called for their elaborate woven nests].

wheatear - refers to Wheatear, Oenathe oenanthe. - [Early Modern English wheatear, wheatears, wheat, whiteass, white rump, whitetail, wheat, white + ers, eeres, arse, Old English hwit, white + ærs, rump, in reference to its white rump].



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